» Thursday, June 28, 2007


The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) began the briefing by informing Lobby of the issues discussed today at Cabinet.

Cabinet met for 45 minutes this afternoon and was a serious and businesslike meeting. The Prime Minister opened by emphasising the need for the Government to set out clear policy agendas across the main priority areas of the Government, and to reach out to the public as a listening and learning Government. Hilary Benn updated Cabinet on the floods before the Prime Minister outlined the changes being made to the machinery of Government. Jack Straw outlined the emerging set of proposals for constitutional and governmental reform, and it was agreed that to ensure proper Cabinet consideration of the constitutional reform agenda, there would be a further meeting of the Cabinet at 11:00 tomorrow, ahead of a statement by the Prime Minister to the House on Monday.

The PMS then read through a list of Ministers appointed for each of the regions. The role of these Ministers was to act as regional champions within the Government, and to represent the Government on parliamentary debate and other forum focussed specifically on regional issues.

The PMS then clarified a few points arising from this morning’s briefing. The RESPECT Unit would sit in the new Department for Children, Schools and Families, but its work would span across three departments. The Home Office had responsibility for reducing crime and disorder, policy responsibility and the statutory basis for ASBOs; the Ministry of Justice had responsibility for the criminal justice system and joint responsibility for the Youth Justice Board with the new Department for Children, Schools and Families; the new department would have responsibility for early intervention, parenting and families, in addition to joint policy and funding responsibility for the Youth Justice Board.

On the role of the Minister for Housing, whilst the breadth of her responsibilities would stay the same, clearly the fact that she was in Cabinet sent a very clear message about the much greater importance of the Housing Minister and the role of Housing more generally in the Government’s agenda.

Asked if the Prime Minister took the opportunity to give Cabinet advice about trust in Government, and being whiter than white, the PMS replied that there would be the opportunity for Cabinet to have a very lengthy discussion on that issue along with other more general issues tomorrow. As and when the Prime Minister had something to say, he would say that in the House of Commons on Monday.

Asked if there was still a Minister for Europe, the PMS replied that he was sure there would be a Minister with responsibilities for Europe, but the exact breakdown of Foreign Office junior Ministers would be announced tomorrow.

Asked if he could say more about constitutional agenda to be discussed in Cabinet tomorrow, the PMS replied that the constitutional reform agenda was clearly quite wide ranging and included both the conduct of the Government, and the manner in which Ministers conducted themselves.

Asked if Tessa Jowell would be reporting to Ed Miliband or directly to the Prime Minister, the PMOS replied that Tessa Jowell would report directly to the Prime Minister. Asked if she would control the Olympics budget even though it was set by another department, the PMS replied that Tessa Jowell would have overall responsibility for managing the Olympics project.

Asked on the constitutional agenda if the Government planned to produce policy proposals, or would it begin a large consultation process, the PMS replied that people should wait for the Prime Minister’s statement on Monday. But clearly there was a wide spectrum with specific detailed proposals at one end, and quite general, open and consultative proposals at the other end of the spectrum.

Put that "down the Dog & Duck" people were not crying out for a new Prime Minister to set a new constitutional settlement, and asked why the focus was on this instead of sorting out hospitals and schools, the PMS replied that "down the Dog & Duck" people were clearly concerned about the fact that they felt disengaged from the political process and had concerns about trusting politicians and the Government. These were the issues that the constitutional package would cover.

Put to him that tomorrow there was a Private Members Bill on constitution convention and asked if the Government supported this, the PMOS replied that he did not want to pre-empt tomorrow’s Cabinet discussion.

Asked if the Prime Minister or anyone else said anything at the start of Cabinet to mark the occasion, the PMS replied that it was a serious and businesslike discussion and they quickly got down to the business of Government, the floods update from Hilary Benn in particular. There was no thumping of the table or anything of that nature.

Asked if the Prime Minister mentioned Iraq at Cabinet, and in particular did he have anything to say anything about the soldiers from Fife who had been killed, the PMS replied that we could not say anything at his point until there was further confirmation from the Ministry of Defence. It would be inappropriate to pre-empt that.

Asked if the policy of bringing troops home from Iraq was discussed at Cabinet, or the European Treaty, PMS replied that there was no discussion of Iraq at Cabinet today, there would be plenty of opportunities in the future to discuss this very important issue. There was also no discussion of Europe, but again it was an important foreign policy issue and there would be plenty of opportunity to discuss that in the future.

Asked if Cabinet Committees had been sorted out, especially since the Deputy Prime Minister used to chair a large number of them, and who would be doing that job now, the PMS replied that the current priority was to appoint junior Ministers, we would move on to Cabinet Committees at a later stage.

Asked to elaborate on the thinking behind appointing Harriet Harman as Leader of the House, as appointing a Labour Chairman to a role that was traditionally seen as non-partisan and therefore could be seen as unusual, the PMS replied that when Harriet Harman was Solicitor General, it was a role that one might consider to be less partisan than other Ministerial functions. Clearly all Ministers had dual responsibilities with their party interests, but the Leader of the House, along with other Cabinet Ministers, would be able to act in a by-partisan way as she will have to in her new capacity.

Asked to say more about the Regional Ministers, and was it right that they would be championing their regions in the Government and not the other way around, the PMS replied that the idea was to ensure that the regional dimension was properly factored into the Government’s decision making process in a cross-departmental way. Asked if it would therefore be more bottom-up than top-down, the PMS replied that it was more about ensuring that the regional dimension was joined up across Government. Asked if the Regional Ministers would all have other responsibilities as well, the PMS replied that everyone would have to wait for the detail tomorrow to see exactly how these posts related to other junior Ministerial positions.

Asked if the Prime Minister had begun the process of appointing junior Ministers, and they would be announced, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had begun the process. The intention was to publish the full list tomorrow, although it was not completely out of the question that there might be one or two announcements later today.

Asked if there had been a decision made on grace and favour houses, and whether the Prime Minister had decided whether he would use the flat above No10 or No11, and whether the whips would be moving back into No12, the PMS replied that there had been no decisions taken on any of those issues at this point.

Asked who would become Prime Minister should Mr Brown fall under a bus and would it be Harriet Harman, the PMS replied that in an emergency it would be the decision of the Cabinet, which would be subject to approval by the NEC and then The Queen would then call for that person.

Asked if the Prime Minister was entirely happy about reported comments from David Miliband on Iraq and Lebanon, the PMS replied that he had not seen the remarks that David Miliband was reported to have made last year. David Miliband would make an excellent Foreign Secretary.

Asked about the appointment of Mark Malloch Brown, and his "hostile attacks" on George Bush over Iraq, the PMS replied that Mark Malloch Brown’s record in recent years as Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, showed he had been working very actively on the reconstruction process in Iraq. Whereas individuals might disagree over the decision to go to war, Mark Malloch Brown had been very actively involved in the reconstruction process.

Asked if the Prime Minister had agonised over reducing the number of women in the Cabinet from eight to five, the PMS replied that the number of women who attended Cabinet remained at eight. The Prime Minister thought that the Cabinet was adequately balanced, and he had appointed who he thought were the best people for the job.

Asked if there was any thought to bringing back twice weekly PMQs, the PMS replied that there were no plans to change this.

Asked if President Sarkozy had invited the Prime Minister to Paris for talks, the PMS replied that he was not aware of such an offer, but would check.

Asked if it was the case that Shaun Woodward would not be paid, the PMS replied that this was correct, but the decision had been taken by him for private reasons. It was not a decision arising from any limits on the number of paid Cabinet posts. Asked if this was a condition of him being offered the job, the PMS replied that this was not the case.

Asked if the Cabinet Secretary was aware that the Tony Blair was interviewed by the police for a third time, the PMS replied that the journalist should speak to the Cabinet Office. Put to him that he had already tried this but was referred back, the PMS replied that the journalist should try again! He was not a spokesman for the Cabinet Secretary.

Asked if there was any reason for the Cabinet dropping from 23 to 22, the PMS replied that this was not driven by numbers, but by the jobs that needed doing, and who were the right people for those jobs.

Put that Mark Malloch Brown was a fierce critic of US foreign policy calling it a disaster, and asked therefore was it right to imply there was some sympathy for these views, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister said recently that he believed very strongly in the importance of the relationship with the United States and the President. Mark Malloch Brown had a lot of expertise as an international diplomatic figure, and had been very active in leading the effort on the reconstruction of Iraq. Put to him that the US would be looking for reassurance, the PMS repeated that the Prime Minister took our relationship with the US very seriously.

Put to him that there had been a lot of negative comment over the fact that Des Browne would be Scottish Secretary along with Defence, and asked to explain the thinking behind the decision, the PMS replied that there had been precedents in the past for the Scottish Secretary combining the role with another post. Douglas Alexander for example was Transport Secretary at the same time. Des Browne was a very hard working and competent Minister who would take his responsibilities as Defence Secretary very seriously.

Asked if it was fair to say that the Prime Minister’s priority at the moment was constitutional reform, the PMS replied that the thinking behind it was that the Prime Minster wanted to set out very clearly, the manner in which his Government will operate and conduct itself, and the importance that he attached to reengaging with the public and restoring trust in the political process. Therefore it seemed a logical to start there and move on to individual policy areas.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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